Sunday, July 20, 2014

Nettleware for the Discerning Gentleman

You may have heard tell of our enviable nettle surfeit. Yep, we have a nettle surfeit, if indeed it's possible to have too much of such a useful friend (I mean, the stings alone ... way to conquer your crippling ennui). Having exhausted the possibilities of nettle pesto, nettle soup, nettle gnocci, steeped nettle liquid fertiliser, nettle tea, nettle spanakopita, and nettles in your nemesis's pillow (I'd never, the waste), I was pretty darn excited to read on Asparaguspea that nettle string is a thing. And a thing that uses up the fibres from the nettle stalks while the leaves are put to more gustatory purposes, no less.

I don't quite have the time/patience to hand-spin enough nettle string for a whole shirt, though that would be the excellentest thing, and if ever I have an engrossing 156-hour cult tv series in a boxed DVD set that I have to watch for, erm, work, then I Will Do It (nettle shirts for all!). In the meantime, I figured a nettle coronet might be do-able, King Lear style:

Alack, 'tis he: why, he was met even now
As mad as the vex'd sea; singing aloud;
Crown'd with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds,
With bur-docks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn. 

If this is the kind of challenge you're up for, then first you have to source your nettles. As they're not being eaten, you don't have to worry about their glyphosate-and/or-lead-free status so much, which is good, because there are few things so fine as tromping along delightful, but possibly slightly toxified, gullies with a sturdy nettle-receptacle over your arm and a pair of gloves on your paws. You'll be looking for the longer nettle stems. Midgy ones aren't much use. And you'll want to watch the patch of skin between the cuff of your sleeve and the top of your glove. By the way.

Once you have a goodly supply of nettles, you remove the leaves (good for eating if from a reliable source, or composting if not), and then peel the outer fibre - the epidermis - off the stalks in strips as long as you can make 'em. I kept my gloves on for the leaf removal, but didn't worry too much for the stem-skinning.

And then let them dry over night. And then, the next day, take a strip, fold it over in the middle to make a loop and then start twisting the two halves around each other from the loop down towards the loose ends of the fibre. When you're a few centimetres from the ends, you introduce another strip, folded over in half again to make a U-shape, then insert the U into your prior twist, and then ... okay, too complicated. See here for clear instructions on how to make your own personal cordage out of whatever you fancy.

By now, on the "one, two, skip a few, ninety-nine, a hundred" principle of nettle-coronet-manufacture, you will have a length of nettle string. Ta da!


Now, for the super complicated bit: you corner your King Lear substitute, assess her/his mental health and parenting philosophy (you don't want anyone you know to be too much of a King Lear substitute) and then you wrap your nettle crown around the crowny bits of her/his head. Double ta da!

Tim, practising for his career as a Sad Etsy Boyfriend, not that I am going to attempt to sell my bodgo nettle crown on Etsy, now that I have seen that Etsy lists this machine-spun nettle yarn of splendour.

Verdict: my technique needs work, but nettle-based textiles and I have a future.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Saffron Milkcaps and the glory of free mushrumps

A couple of months ago, my mum and the Lalorians visited Petty's Orchard, a sort of living museum for heirloom apple varieties tucked quietly down a lane in suburban Templestowe. It was May, so there wasn't a lot to see, apple-wise, besides the lichen-laden boughs of the trees, espaliered and trellised in various exciting configurations, but we poked around in the produce shop attached to the orchard, and after a while I noticed that Mum was looking intently at a box of pine mushrooms for sale.

We popped up to the motherland in north-east Victoria this week for a Sibling Convergence of Excellence (with Bonus Partners and Offspring and Non-Human Vertebrate Companions, so, in short, ten humans, two cats, one beagle, ten chooks) and Mum mentioned to me that there were some fungi down the road that looked very like the pine mushrooms she'd seen. I've bought pine mushrooms before - for a mere $35 a kilo or so - so I already had a good sense of what they look like, how delicious they are, and how rarely I can justify getting them. Here were multitudes, growing in the good old earth.

Saffron milkcap, aka pine mushroom, aka Lactarius deliciosus (the name's a clue), fruiting like a boss.

I'm not a super confident mushroomer. There's a mushroom that pops up round Lalor in Winter that looks quite a lot like the field mushroom, Agaricus campestris - sufficiently so that we gathered some a few years ago and started cooking them. They stunk of burning rubber and we realised, before anything untoward had happened, that they were yellow stainers, Agaricus xanthodermus. So I'm wary (I've heard enough about death-caps over the last few years), but obviously not as wary as I am greedy. Also, your Lactariuses deliciosuses are famously some of the most easily identified mushrooms in Australia. 

I took a couple of photos:

Mushroom showing off her gills and bare stipe.

Mushroom showing off depressed cap.

and then plonked them up on Pfaczbuch with demands for a final verification from the team. This is not the OH&S-authorised method of suspect fungus identification, by the way, but I happen to have some very cluey friends in the foraging department. One of them (the son of a couple of early-adopter permaculturalists, who grew up eating straight from the garden, the kind of person you could rely on to magic a four-course dinner out of a roadside nature strip) instantly started reeling off synonyms for "pine mushroom": Edel reizker, revellones, saffron milk caps. So three of us adults chucked a few in our mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) soup and never looked back.

The next day, my littlest nieces and I set off up the hill behind Ma Harlot's to forage for mushrooms. Which is, you know, highly responsible aunting, especially considering that amidst the pine mushrooms were the similarly coloured Amanita muscaria, infamous psychoactive intoxicants.

Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, hanging out in the woods .

The nieces were thrilled with the hunt. Or maybe that was just me. Someone was thrilled, anyway. We clambered back down the hill with about five kilos of beauties, and then cooked pine mushroom and kale risotto for ten people, leaving enough pine mushrooms over to accompany dinner for the next few days.

Pine mushrooms a-chopped in preparation for mush-sotto. The flesh stains a coppery blue when bruised.

Yesterday, in the hour before packing, I headed up the hill again, and gathered up a modest supply for us to take home. We left more than half of the mushrooms we spotted, not least so that they'll spore well for next year. Perhaps we needn't have worried (these mushrooms were fruiting all over the place: along a road six kilometres from my mother's house, under the deodars in the local cemetery), but there's a lot about the secret life of myco-things that I don't understand, and maybe the trees need them, or something in the soil does.

I therefore conclude with this moss-log-dolphin-wombat-hole assemblage, symbolising the interconnectedness of things and/or processes in the organic world. You're welcome :-)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mid-winter and the minds of plants

Apart from a rogue frost early in May, Winter's taken its time getting to Lalor. Finally, this week, the winds tugged the russety leaves off our plum, Melbun's specialty, the cold needly thin rain that doesn't quite soak the soil, set in, and the cats started cuddling the heater for six hours in a row.

Winter Solstice backyard action. L to R in a sort of clockwise direction: newly leafless Japanese quince, fly screen being used to protect potato patch from chickens, cumquat shortly after removal of three kilos of cumquats, fancy-pants chook-proof corrugated iron raised veg bed, water chestnut bowl with the blanched water chestnut reeds still in, bunked down for Winter beehive under plum tree, kiwi-fruit archway, globe artichoke having the best time everrrrr, dude, purple salvia getting in some late June florescence before anyone tells it its meant to look spindly and sad at this time of year.

I worry sometimes about how our plants read the increasingly erratic weather. Last year, after a horrifically dry Summer, one of the apple trees produced a spray of (Spring) blossom - in Autumn. The blossom set fruit and we had to pull the hard green little apples off so that the tree wouldn't waste energy on them over Winter. Beekeepers in central Victoria have been talking about the gum trees going on strike. This year (not so bad for us, really), we have Autumn-raspberries fruiting in mid-Winter.

Autumn Bliss Raspberry, considering changing its name to Depths-of-Winter Fruit.

And our Autumn-flowering rosemary seems to be flowering at the tippy end of June, tempting the bees out of bed, when we thought we'd set them up to stay indoors and quaff honey til late August.

Rosemary of Bee Temptation.

I heard a really very fabulous paper recently by an evolutionary biologist, Monica Gagliano, who has discovered that plants can learn. She's worked with mimosas, a plant that has evolved to fold in its leaves when touched, exposing its spines and making its green bits look less appetising to vegetarians. In the act of repulsing herbivores, though, it reduces its own opportunity to photosynthesise. Monica designed training that would help the mimosa to refine its risk/benefit analysis.

She dropped potted mimosas repeatedly. At first the individual plants folded up their leaves in response to being dropped, but over repeated drops they learnt that being dropped didn't result in herbivore attack, and they stopped folding in their leaves. Weeks later, Monica subjected the plants to various agitations - touching, dropping - and found that although they were still sensitive to touching, they had lost their sensitivity to being dropped. That is to say, they had learnt that dropping didn't warrant giving up on opportunities to catch sunlight, and they remembered their lesson through time.

So, individual plants can learn and adapt, which is glorious, amazing, challenges all my ideas about how mind works and what plants are. But it also makes extra poignant the fact that the messages the plants are getting these days are so mixed, and the lessons so one-offish (floods one year, droughts the next).

For now, though, it's working out quite well for us plant-eaters. I brought in this ridiculous haul of backyard fruit on Saturday - a week after the Solstice.

 Fruit! Raspberries conspicuously absent (someone may have eaten them before they made it inside).

So, citrus, tamarillos and over-the-hill feijoas. Some kind of Winter we've got here.

Bonus chicken photo.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Nettle and Fox

We were huddled late last night on the floodlit platform of Northcote Station, me reading American Wife (which, you know, if you're into discomfiting novels about the sexual careers of Republican First Ladies, I highly recommend) and Tim stolidly trying not to make eye-contact with the paranoid shouty man on the other side of the tracks. And then, all of a sudden, insouciantly snuffling about, as suburban as your family dog, was a fox. She wasn't in a hurry. She sauntered her way along the outer edge of the platform, took in the pedestrians walking near her up the path, followed her nose along a fence line, and then, a few metres beyond the edge of the platform, slipped under a fence and loped across the tracks. If I'd had a sausage, not that I'm in the habit of travelling with sausages, I could have tossed it to her and she would have taken it. She might even have taken it from my hand, she was so unruffled by our human presence.

I really did wish I'd had a sausage. And/or a camera.

We were thrilled. We'd brushed with some mythical creature, like a Tasmanian tiger or a unicorn, this doggy beast, not much bigger than our (admittedly enormous) cats, dusky auburn furred with a dark brown tip to her tail and dark brown legs, who'd paused long enough and close enough that we could see the smile of her foxy mouth, skinny, unworried, out on the town, looking for - I don't know - the odds and ends of people's fish and chips? the good-tasting things that get dropped near public bins? rats?  We probably shouldn't have been thrilled, given our duties to our chooks (although it's hard to imagine such a skinny little carnivore making much headway with the 4kg (+ beak) of Esme or Shirley Australorp). I know they're killers (who isn't, really? not even the veganiest of us can survive without displacing someone else from their habitat). Sometimes they kill creatures whose deaths in turn affect whole systems and their inhabitants. On the other paw, those systems are themselves so irreparably disrupted that in some cases a fox might have a stabilising effect. I'm thinking of rabbits, of course. Another dear carnivore friend of mine, Harriet Cat, amazingly caught herself a sparrow yesterday morning, then dismembered it on my Nepalese felt rug. Bad cat, sweet sparrow, but then, too many sparrows aren't so sweet, and a cat.owes it to herself to eat, and better to eat free-range sparrow than fish trawled out of the ocean and sold in tins, so good cat.

So we were thrilled. I love a feral.

Last year a nettle sprang up unbidden in one of our veggie patches. Nettles are infamous for the formic acid they carry in their hairs, and it's true, if you touch a bare nettle with your bare skin, there will be itching. But! the dudes are edible, and high in iron and calcium! And it is the firm belief of my beloved, an amateur cheesesmith, that they can somehow be used as a kind of rennet-substitute to assist in the coagulation of milk (as, allegedly, can fig-sap and mallow). The thought of growing something as notoriously badass in our vegetable patch appealed – the vegetable-growing equivalent of whatever we experienced in socialising with last night's fox – so we let last year's nettle go to seed, and this year have had ten thousand nettle seedlings to contend with.

Nettles nettling.

We've been chucking nettles into soups with such abandon you'd think we hadn't heard of other greens. They're best harvested by someone adept in the use of scissors and plastic bags, or someone with a pair of gloves, although the people who talk about grasping the nettle (presumably bare-handed) always say it like it's a good thing, so you're welcome to conduct that experiment in your own time. Once they've been cooked they're 100% sting free, and taste ... sort of underwhelming ... and look sort of emerald-fading-to-khaki and soggy. I have been talking bold talk about nettle pesto and nettle gnocci and nettle spanakopita, but these pleasures are yet to transpire. I think I'm more wrapped in the idea of my own derring-do than the actual culinary experience. Prickly ferals on a plate, ftw.

Monday, June 2, 2014

An Expotition Down Edgar's Creek

I had a (crazily beyond optimistic) fellowship application due with a fancy-pantsy German university on the last day of May. Despite warning everyone who'll listen about the perils of last-minute-dom, I found myself taking full advantage of the fact that we are on the far eastern edge of the world, the wondrous wonder of time-zones, and so kicked up my heels adding commas and tweaking adjectives until 7.36am on the 1st June, 144º58'E. Because I get asymptotically more beastly for every minute that I am awake after about 11pm, I'll often put myself to bed with something not quite finished and get up in the wee hours the next morning. And then, even if Doing Things at the Last Minute (and/or Hour) is Bad-o-McBadpants, I get to feel a kind of righteousness about polishing off a 5000-word document and flinging it etherwards in the general direction of Münich before your average Joe has had her Sunday porridge.

The day got a whole lot less productive after 7.36am. I went back to bed and finagled my progesterone pessary into place. I jettisoned my plans to mow the nature strip or mop our chook-poo-compromised living room floor or excavate the sediment of junk that's settled on top of the vacuum cleaner (if indeed the vacuum cleaner hasn't decomposed down there ... it's been a while). I didn't drain the goitre of my inbox. I didn't open the 108,000 word document I have to read and annotate by Wednesday. I may have watched an episode of The Time of Our Lives on iview, because what's a bespectacled Melburnian in her mid 30s to do?

And then we spent the rest of the day going for a walk along Edgar's Creek. Edgar's Creek is a proper creek, right up until it gets to Lalor, where it finds itself curtly disciplined into a broad concrete drain that stops the water from soaking into the soil and instead rushes it down south to join Merri Creek and then the Yarra. Up our end, just on the paddocky side of Lalor, organic life is doing its bit to slow down the flow. The drain is thick with reeds and tribes of gawky moor hens.

 The paddocky end of Lalor, looking north, towards the bucolic warehouses of Cooper St, Epping. Note delicious cardoons, fennel, and wild brassicas.

Where Edgar's Creek leaves its spongy soilbed and enters the concrete creek control facility, with bonus inscrutable creek-straining fence thingy, on the tippy northern edge of Lalor. Note blackberries.

Representative Edgar's Creek moorhen. Note Vietnamese mint in foreground.

A plucky adventurer.

The creek travels from the paddocks down between the back fences of rows of backyards, and we make a habit of tramping it from loquat season until the end of plum-time because of the high likelihood of stumbling across fruit left to drip onto the ground. Further downsteam, though, as it gets to Thomastown, Edgar's ploughs its concrete way through a kilometre or two of dark satanic mills. We always stop before we get here, not so much because of the lack of fruit trees or the high likelihood of wading through the industrial goo that gets into Edgar's at this point (just your average toxic dose of lead, arsenic, cadmium, etc), but because by now we've walked about five good kilometres and we have to walk the same to get back home again.

Wuchatsch House, from before the brick-veneerealisation of the Lalor/Thomastown borderlands.

Suburban sheep, doing their thang.

Also, by now we've generally seen the sheep, and our lives are thus complete; we can turn back satisfied. Yesterday, though, in the spattering rain, we kept going: past the sheep, past the Thommo Recreation and Aquatic Centre, through the creek tunnel under the Ring Road (a blaze of glorious graffiti as high as the spray-can can reach), then we had to cross the creek (wading, in my now thoroughly saturated shoes, through the arsenic-enriched waters) to the more navigable western bank, south past the massive Thomastown electricity terminal station, through a cyclone fence someone had kindly already cut open for us, and then down into Reservoir, where the edges of the creek get backyardy again.

 The tunnel under the six-lane northern Ring Road. Excellent acoustics; great place for choral recordings, spray-can-based-artwork, camping holidays, &c. You can barely hear the cars above. Water most definitely not potable, but on the other hand it didn't completely dissolve my shoes when I waded through it a few hundred metres downstream.

After the industrial strip, things get pretty excellent. As with the good people of Lalor, the Resvians of Reservoir are backyard agriculturalists with a keen eye for a bit of public land that can be appropriated for the cultivation of broccoli.

So there's a lot of this sort of thing, self-allotted allotment gardens, artfully terraced:

And here. I love that these people have positioned deck-chairs so that they can enjoy their view across the cabbages to the concreted drainage canal.

Note water in bottom righthand corner, lapping at edges of concrete. This far downstream, the creek's picked up three suburbs' worth of street-water and is positively gushing towards the Merri.

The best things of all, though, are the adjacent houses with little fowl-portals cut into their back fences. A gaggle of chooks grazed out the back of one house, scampering across rocks and behind prickly pears as we ambled into sight, and next door were eight Muscovy ducks, who one by one ducked (ha!) through their portal to escape us. As the co-proprietor of an establishment which sorely lacks for much needed chook-pasture, I was pretty impressed, let me tell you, by the good use of this de facto common. I can see something going wrong in the fox-meets-bird department one of these days, but at least the bird would die with a crop full of juicy green grass and a lot of outdoor adventuring under her belt.

So that, ladies and lentilmen, is what I did yesterday. Stay tuned for further adventures in the inner outer north.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Wherein I share quite a lot of information about my body (word to the squeamish)

Hello blog. Things round here have been a bit unbloggable. I had a super-dooper writing deadlion mid-month, and almost as soon as that was over we began Operation Make an Embryo. Y'see, despite the fact that we're all about the self-replicating organic systems round here (the tamarillo and artichoke forest, the free-range beehive, the heirloom yoghurt culture, the sourdough culture, the weeing into a watering can, the compost heap of singular joy), it turns out we're not very good at getting our own personal gametes into anything resembling a baby. Not for want of trying, I might add. For three and a half increasingly pessimistic years.

Some of my dearest peops have lived with (and in some happy cases, overcome) infertility, so I always knew it was a thing. I always knew it could be our thing, too. But so what, I'd thought. What the world doesn't need is more human reproduction, and if I had love to spend, surely I could spend it on already existing people, or on Harriet and Bea Cat, or, in moments of desperation, on broccoli seedlings. Then two years passed, and still no foetus, and we decided we'd see a doctor, and do what we could, but we wouldn't try IVF. Not for us. If we claimed to love children so much, after all, then why spend thousands and thousands of dollars on trying for a sprog who might never come into being when there are whole communities of kids in this country who get recurrent ear infections, and all that means, for want of decent medicine.

I'm not quite sure what happened, but some kind of beyond-rational, beyond-ethical yearning kicked in, and so I'm currently typing this in bed, lying down for an hour to stop this morning's progesterone pessary from falling out of my birth canal. Fifteen days ago I started nightly injections with a truly foul follicle stimulating hormone called Gonal (sounds like "gonad", gettit?).  Gonal makes the ovaries ripen lots of eggs simultaneously, rather than your usual monthly egg or two. Six days later, I began supplementing the Gonal injections with Cetrotide injections, to stop the ovarian follicles from releasing the eggs too early. Last week, I hauled myself, my thoroughly punctured lower abdomen, and my tender ovaries to the radiographer and got my innards frisked with a trans-vaginal ultrasound wand (twice) and had blood taken (twice) to determine how the follicles were going. Then on Thursday night I plunged another syringe into my tummy, with Ovidrel, which encourages the follicles to begin the great egg release.

They retrieved the eggs on Saturday. Only eight, mostly from Lefty, which is apparently quite a modest clutch as Gonal-induced egg-making goes. As far as I know, the eggs have spent the rest of the weekend getting to know Tim's sperm, living it up in a serum extracted from the blood of US citizens and sold by the US Red Cross. Romantic, eh? I'll find out later today how many embryos have made it, and then we'll look into implanting one of them into my comfy uterus sometime this week. Meanwhile, I'm feeling pretty poked about. I did my first serious poo since the egg retrieval surgery last night, had to strain just a little bit, and for the next half hour felt like my ovaries would explode. In my moments of more self-pitying wimpiness, I've had to remember that the experience of having the back of one's vagina slightly nicked and one's ovaries rummaged ain't nothing compared to the experience of having a galumphing great baby exiting through an unsuitably small aperture.

So, in short, there's been quite a bit of hoping round here, and trying not to hope too hard, and preparing emotionally for the very likely event that this round won't work, and counting blessings, and contemplating our finances (we've spent around $9000 so far, $1000 of which was donated by my gorgeous sister K, and Medicare will give us a few thousand back (thank you so much, taxpayers), but good golly, that is a lot of money), and trying to be healthy, and remembering that other aspects of one's life, of necessity, go on. And I keep thinking about those little embryos (how many?) in their dishes and hoping one of them gets to become a person.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


A million years ago, my friend Miri and I spent six days rambling all over the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. We had packed six days worth of chocolate, but ate it all on day one, and ended up trading our sanitary pads for the chocolate-covered coffee beans of some German hikers. Priorities. We'd also brought six dinners' worth of what I had thought (while packing) would be the best hiking meal ever: red lentils, couscous, a packet per night of dehydrated beans/peas/carrots, and a packet of Continental Cup-a-Soup. You could put all this in a billy with water, bring it to the boil, then take the billy off the flame, wrap it in a woolly jumper, and all the ingredients would keep absorbing water without any additional heat source. "What's for dinner?" Miri had asked on day 3. "Lentil surprise!" I'd said, but Miri was not surprised. (We were both quite farty by this stage, by the way, because pulses really need a good soak before they're cooked, but I guess we had the whole of Tasmania to make smells into, and a brisk breeze chopping in from the Pacific, so farty-schmarty.)

On day 4, we scrambled down a mountain onto a beach from before the Fall. White sand, gargantuan tresses of kelp washed up out of a grey ocean, and little blobs of bright green seaweed sitting on the sand like cos lettuces. Lentil, couscous, Cup-a-Soup, and reconstituted peas had gotten pretty old by now, so we decided to gussy up our dinner that night with some salty old cos-of-the-sea. I won't say that this was the moment that turned me into a card-carrying forager (because, even before the seaweed-lentil-a-bleu event of 2001, I had spent a lot of my life fantasising about being left behind at our holiday house so I could subsist on bracken shoots, blackberries, and rabbit dung), but it was certainly a formative moment.

I love a walk. I love walking pace and its sensible, intuitive uniting of distance travelled and time. I like having conversations on the hoof. And I do so like eating my environment.

Team Lalor ambled up to the parental estate in Bright last weekend. The forests around Mum's house are particularly excellent for their abundance of feral fruit, and, around Easter, for their abundance of apples. Some of these forest apple trees were perhaps planted on purpose, once upon a time, but some of them are clearly natives, rogue trees with the sort of nuggety fruit noone would deliberately propagate. We have a bit of an Easter tradition afoot, of pillaging the wild apples, more than we could possibly eat before they turn into mush, and making all the apple things: apple and ginger jam, dehydrated apple slices, apple pies, and, as of last year, cider. 

Cider is traditionally made not with sweet dessert apples like Jonathans and Galas, but with bittersweet and bittersharp apples, apples with a degree of acidity and tannininess that make them, as apples, not particularly tasty. The cider apples have names like Improved Foxwhelp, Brown Snout, and Yarlington Mill, names which are, in their own right, perfectly darling. We don't have access to any named varieties of cider apple (though we're growing a Granny Smith, who gives suitably acidic apples), but we found last year that a goodly variety of apples and crabapples from the forests around Bright results in a pretty perfect cider.

So, we walked and we plundered the trees - as high as we could reach, which still left acres of fruit for the parrots - and, as you can see, we not only found apples, but also chestnuts and a few walnuts and a few hazelnuts. The nuts are footpath nuts; the apples are forest apples.

The apples are home now, mellowing, which should make them easier to crush and press when the time comes.

Besides apples and nuts, the forests are teeming with green things. Bakers' Gully Creek is infested with watercress, which I barely restrained myself from harvesting and adding to the latest iteration of lentil surprise. Behind the shopping centre in Bright there is a rampaging hop bine in bloom, pretty much murdering a camellia.

We've been trying to coax hop flowers from a hop bine in our garden for two years now. We bought it as a dormant rhizome on ebay a couple of years ago, and lo, it did verily burst from the earth in Spring, but it hasn't grown like topsy, as hops are fabled to do, and it hasn't blossomed yet. It might be that it's still getting into its stride. I've seen hops flowering at CERES, just down the road, so there's no serious climatic reason why we ain't got no hopping action. Anyway, given the brewing that takes place in this house and our own lack of hop production, there was quite a lot of excitement at the sight of the masses and masses of hops dripping over the pavement. We pressed the flowers between our fingers and they left behind an oily smear - just the stuff a brewer wants - so we stuffed a couple of handfuls into a bag, and now they too are mellowing (or rather, sitting in the freezer) waiting to aromify a beery tribute to easter in Bright.

Speaking of hops, and, erm, therefore speaking of kangaroos, this paddock next door to the Harlot estate is a gigantic kangaroo dinner-table-cum-loo. Technically it belongs to some guy, but in fact it belongs to the Eastern Greys, who turn up nightly for a nibble and a poo. The guy seems to understand this, and has left the paddock be for yonkers.

Mum had shown me an ad in a gardening magazine for wombat poo. In fact, you can buy it online - "that special manure for that special person's special pot plant".* I'm not proud of myself for this, but I'm mentioning it in the spirit of confession: I was moved by the combination of wombat-poo-for-sale and the fact that I'd seen WilburHund eating the roo poo the day before and the fact that I am really a bit of a thief to go into the roo paddock one morning and fill a plastic bag with the freshest of macropod droppings. It's now mellowing on one of the bathtub gardens on our driveway.

So, walking. Not only is it good for the soul, it also results in apples, hops, poo, and possibly seaweed in your lentils.

* It's my birthday in a month. Just saying.